Retold by Joyce Jacobo
[Author’s Note: Based on an actual story published around Halloween in the student newspaper at the college I attended as an undergraduate and graduate student. I did try to save the actual newspaper where it appeared, but that source material has since been misplaced and lost to time. It clearly had a certain message, though. Hope you enjoy it!]
A version of the following story got published in a college newspaper one October, following an interview the head editor had with the janitor, Mr. Murry, who stressed he had a story everyone in their community needed to hear:
Mr. Murry had almost finished his shift. He mainly worked during the evenings, cleaning up after the students and faculty members when the whole place was silent and empty. The food wrappers, unfathomable stains, and various other types of items, though, spoke quite loudly of their daily passage.
If only, he wished, someone could have a little consideration for all the hard work janitors like him had to go through on a regular basis.
One night, Mr. Murry was putting the final touches on “The Dungeon”—an affectionate nickname given to the ground floor of the university’s library. Although its winding corridors housed the archives, as well as a few lesser-known classrooms, most of the campus population tended to stick to the first floor. In fact, there were dozens of students and visitors to the campus who had never known The Dungeon existed, since they could only access the floor by walking down an external stairwell.
Admittedly, the isolated and secretive design was something that made it Mr. Murry’s favorite place to go on his rounds. There was less for him to clean on a constant basis, since even he could only do so much for all the dirt and stains left on its surfaces over the years. Regardless of how hard he scrubbed, some of the spots just refused to go away.
Mr. Murry straightened up and took a moment to admire the polished gleam he had managed to create on the smooth, tiled floor of the hallway that stretched in front of him. He turned to admire the rest of the hallway behind him, only to freeze in astonishment. Right through the middle of all his hard work, there was an odd trail of what looked like green ooze, which continued to the far end and turned the corner.
Caught off-guard, he poked at the ooze with his broom.
The bristles came away covered in the ooze. He tentatively sniffed the substance, trying to identify it. His eyes widened as he exclaimed, “Why, this smells just like ice cream!”
Then Mr. Murry heard faint crying sounds. Looking up, he noticed someone standing at the very end of the hallway—a sad young girl in a plain white dress. Dirty-blond hair came down to her waist, and she was covering her face with her hands, though Mr. Murry could see tears leaking between her fingers. There were the remains of a dropped ice cream cone at her feet, from which the oozing green trickle had apparently started.
Baffled by this child, who appeared to be around eight years old in his estimation, Mr. Murry leaned his broom against the wall and approached her. “Hey, little girl, what are you doing down here?” He forced an upbeat note into his gravelly voice. “Are you lost?”
“I dropped my ice cream. I wasn’t careful enough.” The child sobbed, hands still on her face. “So dirty. Everything is so dirty.” She walked around the bend, still rubbing at her eyes.
“Hold on now, don’t be scared,” Mr. Murry said. “I’m not going to hurt you.” He followed her around the corner, and froze.
The hallway ahead of him was completely empty. As a chill stole down his spine, childish giggles rent the air. Mr. Murry retreated a step as the already dim lights flickered treacherously, followed by a loud thump that caused him to nearly jump right out of his boots. He whirled about, toward the sound, and the lights brightened back to their usual glow.
His broom lay on the floor, completely clean now of the ice cream and—if truth be told—of all its dirt and grime. Meanwhile, the hallways were now impeccable. They were so nice that they looked almost new (at least at that hour).
It was incredible.
Even so, Mr. Murry grabbed his broom and left The Dungeon at a faster pace than he had moved in years.
According to the interviewer for the college newspaper, Mr. Murry stressed it was one of the most terrifying ordeals he’d ever been put through. But still he shared the experience with great enthusiasm and commented that despite everything, he had cleaned The Dungeon several times since then. He even added that he sometimes hoped for a repeat of what had happened, since the ghost had saved him some extra work.
The janitor had also given the interviewer a rather pointed look and emphasized the need for students to take care of their campus because, nine times out of ten, a ghost wouldn’t be around to clean up after them. Living janitors would have to do it, and they needed all the help that they could get.
Ghosts are strange things, indeed.